On the shelves of local stores you’ll find fans, bowties, curlicues, corkscrews, seashells, tubes, strings, pipes, letters, ribbons of various sizes and more. This is not the toy or novelty section of a discount store. The shelves that hold all of these novelties are in the pasta section of the local grocery store. The many shapes of pasta add interest and texture to the various dishes we use it in.
Dried pasta found in packages is not only convenient and useful; it is also tasty and nutritious. However, there is a place on the flavor scale for homemade pasta. It is not a difficult process to make pasta nor does it require unusual ingredients. The result is worth the effort because it adds a different texture and arguably improved flavor over commercial dried pastas.
There is more to homemade pasta than just flat or ribbon noodles. You can work your concoction into various shapes even without a pasta maker. A bit of time and imagination can make a big difference. They are good in soups, casseroles or by themselves with various toppings.
Homemade noodles are essentially a combination of allpurpose flour, eggs, milk or oil and salt. If you let the mixed ball of dough stand for a short time, it is easier to roll out. If you use high-protein all-purpose flour, add an extra egg yolk or a little more milk.
The homemade noodle recipe below is very simple and ready to use in about 20 minutes. In a pinch, it will work without the standing time between forming the noodles and dropping into a pot of soup.
Using the homemade pasta recipe below, you can make shaped noodles. The trick to making shaped noodles is to create dough that will roll out very, very thin. The dough needs to be soft and malleable without snapping back. The oil in the homemade pasta recipe helps create such a dough by coating the flour proteins. This limits their ability to combine and form gluten. Egg yolks have fat and emulsifiers that also limit gluten development, but their own proteins coagulate when they heat, so they add the structure needed to ensure the pasta will hold together when boiled. For best results, work with a small piece of dough at a time.
1 beaten egg
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
Combine egg, milk and salt. Add enough all-purpose flour to make stiff dough. Roll very thin on a floured surface. Let stand 20 minutes. Roll up loosely. Slice 1/4-inch wide and unroll, spread out and let dry two hours. Store in airtight container in refrigerator if desired. Drop into boiling soup or boiling, salted water and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 large eggs plus 6 large yolks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
Mix flour, eggs, yolks and oil in a food processor until mixture holds together. It should feel soft and barely tack to the touch. If it sticks to your fingers, add up to four tablespoons of flour a tablespoon at a time, until it is barely tacky. If the dough doesn’t form a cohesive mass, add a tablespoon of water at a time until the dough comes together.
Knead the ball on a dry surface until smooth for one to two minutes. Shape it into a 6-inch long cylinder and wrap with plastic wrap. Let set at room temperature for at least an hour and up to four hours.
Cut the cylinder crosswise into six equal pieces. Take out one piece of dough to work with and rewrap the rest of the dough. Dust both sides of the piece with flour, place it cut-side down on a flat surface and press into a 3- inch square.
Use a heavy rolling pin to roll dough into a 6-inch square. Dust both sides of dough lightly with flour. Start at the center of the square and roll the dough away from you and then start in the center to roll the other way. Continue rolling each way until the dough sticks to the counter and measures about 12 inches long.
Dust lightly with flour and continue to roll until it is about 20 inches long and 6 inches wide. You will need to lift the dough frequently to keep it from sticking to the counter.
Transfer the sheet of pasta to a kitchen towel and let it stand, uncovered, until it is firm around the edges, about 15 minutes. Continue rolling out remaining dough and setting to dry.
After 15 minutes, cut noodles from all the sheets. Start with the short end and gently fold pasta sheet at 2-inch intervals until sheet has been folded into flat, rectangular roll. With a sharp chef’s knife, slice crosswise into 3/16-inch-thick noodles. Gently unroll the pasta and transfer it to a baking sheet. Cook noodles within one hour.
Bring 4 quarts salted water to boil in large Dutch oven. Add pasta and cook until tender but still al dente, about three minutes. Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water. Drain pasta and toss with sauce; serve immediately.
Make Ahead Noodles
Prepare pasta as directed above but before cooking, transfer baking sheet of cut pasta to freezer, and freeze until it is firm. Transfer to zip-lock bag and store for up to two weeks. Cook frozen pasta straight from the freezer as directed above.
Cut and form the pasta in the recipe above into various shapes, then transfer to a lightly floured baking sheet until time to cook. It should be cooked within an hour of being shaped or frozen.
Leaving the sheet of dough flat, cut it into 1- by 1 1/2-inch rectangles using a pizza cutter. Use a fluted cutter to cut the short side, for decorative effect. Place an index finger of one hand in center of rectangle. Using thumb and index finger of other hand, pinch in the long sides of rectangle until they reach finger in center of pasta. Remove finger and firmly pinch center together.
Lay 1 1/2-inch square of pasta diagonally on counter (for a decorative touch, lay pasta on clean hair comb or wire rack to create ridges as you roll it). Wrap one corner of the square around a pen or pencil, and with gentle pressure push it away from you until pasta is completely wrapped around pen. Slide shaped pasta off pen and repeat.
With short end of pasta sheet facing you, cut pasta at a 45- degree diagonal into 1-inch strips. Cut pasta sheet again, perpendicular to first cut, to create rough diamond-shaped pieces of pasta.